The intense clash of shield and sword, the sparks scattered affording the arena a tension it hadn’t felt in any of the matches to come before.
Though imperfect, the iron weapons gave off different impressions than the wood swords. The sound and sparks they produced whenever they met, and the screams that started coming in from the audience.
After finishing their practice exercise to test out that different sensation, both sides took distance at once. Those swords had been dulled, but after they had met so many times, the chipping gave them saw-like edges. Aleist’s sword was in an especially terrible state.
In the single portion of the ring they had fought, the scars of their slashes remained.
Wiping the sweat off his face with the sleeve of his left arm, Aleist regripped his sword. Even now, he showed Rudel a joking leisure, but even if they were dulled blades, the man himself wasn’t used to the sensation of being assailed by metal.
“You’ve gotten quite good at using your shield. Did you really just start last year?”
“No, I had been learning the shield from the start. I thought I’d never have the chance to use one, so I stopped part-way… but the boar prepared me a shield, see?”
“The boar, you mean… well, I did hear this and that.”
Aleist had heard Rudel’s armor had been made with the boar’s tusk, and he heard that after that, the boar himself had changed shape for Rudel. His uncouth armor, thanks to the boar, had become something worthy of the white dragoon…
“Ah, by the way, both my eyes are the bird’s magic eyes.”
“What’s that, I want it!”
Once they finished their jest, Rudel held out his left hand and fired magic. While he meant it as a diversion, a number of fireballs that wouldn’t leave on in any healthy state flew at a high velocity.
Aleist avoided them all with his enhanced gait. As those fireballs hit the wall, they raised grand explosions, but the barrier was still maintained.
Hit by the blast wind from behind, Aleist’s stance was put off just a bit, and Rudel used that opportunity to move at once. Conducting high-speed movement with wind magic, he rushed right at Aleist.
But Aleist was the black knight. Dark matter in the shape of spears extended from his shadows, sealing off Rudel’s movement.
From Aleist’s left hand as well, he used his mana pool that could be called bottomless to fire a none-too-frugal stream of magic. Rudel had to economize his mana, but Aleist had an inexhaustible supply, eliminating the need entirely. In his five years at the academy, Aleist had grown as well.
While he fell short of Rudel and Luecke, he excelled in the use of magic.
For the masses of intermediate magic coming at him, Rudel activated the shield on his left hand to manifest his shield of light and block them all. But a mid-range battle of magic put Rudel at a disadvantage. Short on mana, a decisive confrontation was most desirable.
Aleist would win out in a battle of attrition.
“Good grief, in the past, I would’ve used advanced magic here to make an opening!”
Rudel entered high-speed movement again, and Aleist used his shadow to manifest spears around him. For in Rudel’s approach, the spears in his path would be destroyed.
As he thought, the spears on Aleist’s left side were destroyed by Rudel, and shattered, the spears dissolved before fading away in the end. But the moment he readied himself, the spears stopped breaking, and Aleist lost sight of Rudel.
In the noble visitor room, Cattleya and Lilim could just barely follow Rudel with their eyes. Sophina was confused by that unfamiliar fighting style.
It was called an indispensable skill for a dragoon, but it was supposed to be an emergency magic one used when they fell off their dragon.
As Lilim had her elven wings, she hadn’t even learned the techniques. Perhaps you could call it a magic to fly through the sky singlehandedly; by compressing and exploding wind one could change direction and soften falls, or so they had learned. Taking those factors into account, it really was unnecessary for an elf.
But seeing Rudel use the essentials of that technique before their eyes, they couldn’t bring themselves to call it an emergency measure.
Seeing the surprise of those three, Fina’s interest was piqued. She posed the question.
“What sort of magic is that?”
Sophina shook her head unknowingly, so she directed her eyes to the two dragons standing beside her. Cattleya to Sophina’s side gave a simple explanation.
“… It’s similar to a magic that’s been called a dragoon’s essentials. It’s an emergency magic, but I’ve never heard of it being used like that.”
As Lilim nodded as well, Fina thought back to Marty’s dragon. She remembered that Rudel had learned techniques apart from petting, but it wasn’t Fina’s duty to remember any non-petting skill in detail.
“Is it the magic he was practicing back then? (Even so master ain’t human).”
Lilim bit onto Fina’s words. The dragoons hadn’t been informed of the events that transpired in the dragons’ dwellings.
“Come to think of it, he was practicing something over the lake.”
Sophina recalled the scene of Rudel’s practice, but she never thought she would be seeing the fruits of that training before her eyes.
“Yes, thinking back on it now, that was quite a fun trip, Sophina… (Oh, the eyes of the two dragoons grew sharp! Now I just have to remind Sophina of… well, I guess now’s not a good time.)”
Even Fina showed prudence, but Sophina’s face hung face had already turned red.On that reaction, for every adult that understood something happened, there were some who would misunderstand.
“… Hey, duty shirking high knight, what happened?”
On Cattleya’s cold words, Lilim joined in as well.
“I’d definitely like to hear. If the princess was present, then wouldn’t this be a serious affair?”
“W-what are you talking about! There was nothing indecent! Just some lotion and massages…”
They were unfamiliar words, but Lilim immediately understood it related to Rudel’s petting. Turning her eyes to Rudel on the ring, she felt dread at the knowledge he had obtained yet another mysterious technique
But Cattleya alone was different. Next to her excited senpai, she breathed a sigh as some unfamiliar words came out again.
“You mean to say there’s something even stronger than lotion!?”
“No, senpai… by massage, do you mean shoulder rubbing or something? No matter how you look at it, you’re getting too worked up.”
Cattleya still made light of Rudel’s petting. While Fina looked at her in intrigue, inside she looked down on her. She has yet to understand.
Being accused of shirking work, Sophina looked at Cattleya, certain that she didn’t understand the terror of Rudel. Directing a meaningful smile, she offered a warning.
“Cattleya, you too shall experience it someday… and there’s no going back.”
“That’s right, Cattleya, you’ll see a world you’ve never even dreamed up.”
Even Lilim joined Sophina, making a similar smile full of meaning. Fina was also looked at Cattleya, and receiving those three stares, Cattleya mulled again.
(S-seriously, what is this!!?)
By the time Aleist caught sight of Rudel again, a shield of light had manifested above him.
Using a shield to crush Aleist from above was the plan Rudel thought up. Putting his spears back into his shadow, Aleist made a large amount of arms protrude from it.
Those black arms that extended to restrain Rudel’s giant shield disappeared as they touched it as if melting away from heat.
“This is a bit…!”
Aleist wanted to flee from the spot, but his left hand was held out to control his mana. If he moved, his control would become difficult, and he’d be crushed too easily.
He produced hand after hand to resist, lowering the speed of the rapid-falling shield. On the contrary, Aleist slowly attained the force to push it back, but against Rudel, he had ended up using too much of his power as a black knight.
A black magic flowed through his body, trying to take over his head again.
Rudel on the other side of the shield was the same. A radiant mana overflowing, just like the year before, he felt something was taking over his mind to defeat the black knight… to defeat Aleist.
Erasing his shield, Rudel moved to the end of the ring. Aleist emitted a large flow of mana as he writhed in pain.
The powers of these two had yet to be fully understood, but their sheer maginitudes made them difficult to control.
Rudel closed his eyes, directing his consciousness towards the power in his chest. An existence trying to squeeze his power out was entreating him to defeat the black knight before his eyes.
For just an instant, Sakuya’s words revived in his head. The face of the goddess who told him to be the strongest… there was no way he could show her that shameful form again, Rudel decided in his heart.
Opening his eyes, Rudel shouted from the bottom of his heart. Forcefully mustering up his willpower, Rudel subdued the strength of the white knight.
“If you’re my power, then shut up and obey me!!”
The overflowing mana emitting from his body stopped, and this time, as if to cover him, a line of light floated a few centimeters from his body.
An armor of white symbols formed to cover Rudel’s body. Before hie eyes, Aleist fell to his knees and held his head in pain.
And to Aleist, Rudel called out.
Taken in by the darkness, Aleist was unable to use his willpower to subdue the black knight as Rudel had.
His heart gradually eaten into, Aleist was brought back to memories of a distant past.
‘What are you looking at, trash.’
‘He should just die already.’
‘Hah? Confessing? Are you making fun of me? Stop it, you’re making me laugh.’
“Hah, hah, stop it already.”
The memories before Aleist was born as Aleist, they were coming back vividly. The wounds of his heart he had forgotten called back a pain of old.
The memories from when he thought someone like him was unnecessary ate into Aleist.
“Yeah, that’s right. It’s because I reincarnated into this world that the story went awry. If only I wasn’t there…”
As Aleist shed tears and denied himself, a black shadow was approaching his back. To swallow Aleist whole, the shadow opened its large mouth, but there he heard Rudel’s voice.
‘What are you doing, Aleist!? You plan to abandon your match with me!?’
The shadow on Aleist’s back, before the power of the white light shedding light into Aleist’s heard, it faded away. But even now, Aleist couldn’t stand.
‘Very well! If you’re not getting up, I’ll just have to smack you awake.’
In the next instant, Aleist was sent flying, forcefully dragging him back to reality. Even now, his body let off a black mana, but his mind alone was brought back to the world. Through his forceful awakening, he felt as if he was still seeing a dream.
The jeers he received in his past life were still ringing through his ears.
‘I really don’t want to be in the same class as him.’
‘Having no friends? Isn’t he done-for as a human?’
‘When he’s just a disgusting otaku…’
As Aleist clutched his chest in pain, Rudel standing before his eyes seemed radiant. He was letting off light, and besides a physical light, Rudel’s unwavering way of life was blinding.
As Aleist lay face up on the ring, he began giving up. He would never win. Swallowed by the power of the black knight, the weakness of his own heart was turning on him.
But from around came cheers for Aleist.
“Stand up, Aleist! Are you alright, losing like that!?”
“Millia’s watching you know!”
“Show Rudel how strong you are!”
The voices of his friends. Having obtained the first existences he could ever call friends after coming to the academy, Aleist raised his torso.
“Aleist-sama, you can still stand, can’t you!”
“If you’re a knight, then stand! And you call yourself the black knight!?”
“Aleist, don’t lose to Rudel!”
“D-do your best, senpai!”
“If it’s you, Aleist-san, I’m sure you can win!”
Next, Aleist’s harem members raised their voices. Despite the bitter smile on his face, Aleist extended his hand to his knees, readying himself to stand.
He suddenly recalled the face of a girl he admired in the past. Like Aleist, she was a girl who didn’t fit in with her surroundings. He remembered talking to her a few times, and he remembered she had never made fun of him.
(I see, so Millia resembled her…)
By vividly recalling what had grown hazy, Aleist was able to know why he had fallen for Millia.
(How pitiful… dragging on the past for twenty whole years…)
Once again, Aleist heard the jeers stabbing into his heart, but he ignored them all. He turned his ears to the voices of the reality.
He stopped emitting his black mana, and just like Rudel, a black, lightly-glowing insignia covered his body. As he stood, his form was a color swap of Rudel’s.
If Rudel was light, then Aleist was shadow… it was a scene that made it look like that.
“You’re finally up, Aleist.”
“I’m sorry, I took some time… you hit me too hard.”
“We’re in the middle of a match. You should think of it as my mercy that I didn’t land the final blow.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Then we’ll have to go all out from now on.”
“Don’t be stupid! I was going all out from the start!!”
The two of them faced each other once more, readying their weapons.
With the destructive power that increased as the match carried on, Luecke was troubled to respond.
The barrier’s application was still experimental. As Rudel and Aleist suddenly increased in output, Luecke was desperately trying to endure it.
Otherwise, the arena would have already been destroyed.
“Young master, this is bad! The men need some rest!”
“Don’t call me that, Vargas! More importantly, we’re changing formation. Hurry and gather personnel at the indicated points!”
Opposing the two trying to destroy the barrier, Luecke put all his might to maintaining it. While he didn’t have a match, maintaining the barrier through all matches put a considerable burden on Luecke.
While he definitely wanted to show the competence of the Halbades House, more than that, Luecke wanted to prepare a place for his friends to fight.
To grant his friends’ wishes, Luecke had taken on a role that few would evaluate. Looking at Luecke from the side, Lena offered a proposal.
Luecke was too busy to deal with her, and as he let off a colder air than usual, Lena pointed at the barrier’s roof.
Gaining control of their white and black knight powers and using them, the intensity of their battle increased.
In contrast to the several hundred black snakes Aleist called from his shadow, Rudel put out his shield of light to contain them. If the two grew close enough, the swords in their hands or their fists would fly, and Aleist would get in a kick.
Atop the ring where they had given up on long-range combat, the match had already grown impossible to follow. Aleist’s black shadow and Rudel’s radiant light got in the way, and the spectators couldn’t see what was going on.
Rudel closed in and smacked his shield into Aleist. His right-hand sword was coiled by a snake, and he couldn’t use it. Aleist had been hit around by the shield a few times now, and after redirecting it with the hilt of his sword to soften the impact, he visited Rudel with a kick.
As that sharp kick entered Rudel’s stomach, he made a slight expression of anguish. But Rudel unhanded his right hand’s sword, hammering his fist into Aleist.
As Aleist flew, Rudel followed at a high speed. But a large number of snakes wrapped around Rudel’s body, getting in the way of his movement.
He emitted mana from his body to brush away the snakes, but by that time, Aleist had recovered his stance. A black lightning took residence in Aleist’s sword, forming a magic sword.
“This lighting magic sword was always the most troublesome one.”
Taking a stance with his sword, Aleist was sure that metal would be able to endure more than wood. From the start, his output was at the maximum.
In contrast, Rudel had light in his shield, and around him, he made a great many more shields. The magic sword imbued with the magic of lightning destroyed a number of shields with just a touch.
On top of that, Rudel who had been enhancing his body with magic, felt a numbness in his body.
“That one was your specialty. I never thought you’d polish it to such an extent.”
Perhaps because Aleist was concentrating, the snakes and spears returned to his shadows. Rudel avoided Aleist’s attack as he picked up his own fallen sword.
As light filled Rudel’s sword, it took the form of a magic sword. But this time, it was clad in a pale flame. As the sword clad in flames that had a light tint of blue met with Aleist’s sword, Rudel felt numb, while Aleist took some distance, surprised by the heat.
As Aleist jumped back, he protruded spears from his shadow. Among them, a few arms were mixed in to capture Rudel.
All of them were burned away by a swing of Rudel’s sword.
“Haha, you really are inhuman, Rudel.”
“And you’re quite the rude one. I’m sorry to betray your expectations, but I’m human.”
Both were reaching their bodies limits, their symbols on the verge of fading away. Rough in breath, they looked as if they’d collapse at any moment, but they were laughing.
Rudel compressed his magic sword, a sword of blinding light manifesting in his right hand, and in his left a similar shield manifested. What was once a simple mass of iron now let off a divine light.
Aleist also sublimated his sword. He could have just waited for Rudel to run out of gas, but that was something Aleist himself couldn’t accept. He was up against a foe he needed to meet head-on and attain victory.
“Rudel, I always wanted someone to recognize me. But for you alone, I’ll force you to recognize me!!”
On Aleist’s words as he stepped in, Rudel returned no words in response. He simply brandished his blade. Aleist’s sword was taken by Rudel’s shield, but Rudel’s sword was wound in Aleist’s shadows.
That sword that was wrapped in that rubbery darkness had its heat stolen away in an instant. Aleist had imbued his shadow with the attribute of water. It was the moment his last-ditch effort had proved successful.
But at the same time, Aleist’s sword lost to Rudel’s shield and shattered. Aleist’s mana had forced his sword of iron to its limit.
Both swords had been sealed, and everyone could feel Aleist’s disadvantage. Rudel who still had his shield looked like he would come out on top.
Casting aside his sword, Rudel slammed his fist into Aleist. Reacting to the motion, Aleist bent his body forward to avoid the punch.
In his stooped-over position, Aleist aimed at Rudel’s jaw and fired off a kick. Rudel blocked with his left arm, but the impact tore the belt affixing his shield to his arm, sending it flying off.
As Rudel lost the initiative, Aleist tried to trip Rudel up, executing an axe kick as he stood. Rudel rolled to dodge, having a bad premonition of the dull pain he felt in his left arm.
“That’s a tiger tribe technique. I remember this pain.”
“Yeah, it’s a technique executed with nothing but body strengthening. I really went through some troubles to learn it.”
In the past, because of Rudel, Aleist had been abducted and trained by the tiger tribe. A few years ago, he had thought of it as hell, but now that he was fighting Rudel like this, he was thankful.
The wall that couldn’t be overcome with talent alone had been surpassed with the tiger tribe. That combat training, and the techniques he learned from those scary-faced delinquent tigers.
Aleist had once been too afraid to use his power to its fullest, but now he could use it adequately. It was the first time he felt the sway of his own matured power.
Rudel took a stance with his fists, his mouth laughing. Aleist was taken aback, but perhaps Rudel was delighted, as he ignored the pain in his left arm and sent out a fist.
“That’s right! I want to fight you at your best! This is completely different from back then; fighting a serious you!!”
Rudel’s rush was properly answered.
“Y-you battle junkie!!”
But perhaps scared of Rudel’s smile, he was slightly teary.
With the high-speed movement Rudel occasionally mixed in, and the fight’s duration, Aleist was beginning to fall back. If it was a fair-and-square fight, perhaps Aleist held the advantage. But whether it be swordplay or magic, the match was a battle where anything goes.
It was the sort of rule that allowed Rudel to use his strength to the fullest. No matter the field, Rudel was unable to be first, but he could take second place. He was the multi-purpose type who could perform on any sort of battlefield.
In contrast, Aleist was also multi-purpose, but he was cut from different stuff. While Rudel would fight risking his life, Aleist would fight to protect his own. It was clear who held the greed to triumph in a battle against a strong foe.
Aleist who had relied on his cheats held a different base. Even if he had reformed, what he had built up in a few years was different from Rudel.
Perhaps the winner had been decided the moment Rudel set foot into Aleist’s domain. The same territory called the white and black knights…
As Rudel’s right hand stuck a blow into Aleist’s stomach, the shockwave assailed him. The light of the black symbols crumbled, and Aleist was blown a large distance.
At the same time, Rudel’s white symbols disappeared from a lack of mana.
Rudel was still on his feet, looking at Aleist who was trying to stand. Even if he tried to pursue, his body wouldn’t move. Even in that state, Rudel’s greatest desire was for Aleist to stand. The two no longer had the power to fight, but their willpower maintained their consciousness.
“Hah, hah, this really is the worst. I should’ve trained more… I should’ve… I should’ve… why did I have to notice so late…”
If he had noticed it sooner, Aleist could have obtained powers far greater than what he possessed. He had made light of the world as a game, but now he mourned all the time he had spent in waste. He was irritated with himself. But obtaining strength and maturing were separate problems. As he bit back his vexation and tried to stand, Aleist could see the winner.
Rudel’s eyes as he looked at him were pleading for him to stand. Having come so far, whether he stood or not held no meaning to the result. But Aleist wanted to stand.
(At least let me act cool at the end. I really was an idiot, but at the very least, I can put on airs before Rudel. This guy alone, I want Rudel alone to recognize me!)
Whipping his immobile body to motion, Aleist tried to stand when he heard a nostalgic voice, feeling a warmth on his back and limbs. As if four people were supporting him up, he lifted his body he could no longer put power into.
‘Look, your friend’s waiting for you. You can’t keep him waiting.’
‘That’s good, as expected of our child. Our pride and joy…
The nostalgic voices belonged to the parents of a life gone by, voices he was no longer able to hear. Aleist felt tears on his face, and as he stood, he could hear the applause.
Making sure the referee heard, Aleist’s tears wouldn’t stop as he accepted his defeat with a shaking voice.
“I-it’s my loss… The winner is Rudel!”
The ref heard Aleist’s voice, and once he climbed up to the ring, he gave a grand proclamation of Rudel’s victory. The evening had already dyed the sky in orange, and the spectators showered the two in a magnificent applause.
Right after the referee declared the outcome, the two of them fell unconscious at once.
Letting go of his consciousness, Aleist thought back to the familiar voices he had heard at the end.
The forms of his parents floated up in the darkness. While their faces were smiling, they looked somewhat miserable.
“Ah, is this a dream? Goodness me, for me to suddenly feel homesick after coming this far…”
People continued appearing from the darkness. His brother, and his classmate who resembled his beloved Millia. His parents opened their mouths. First was his father.
‘You’ve got to treasure your new parents. And I’m sorry I never noticed. I’m really sorry for being such a no-good parent…’
Shedding tears, Aleist tried to call out to his father. But his mother held up a hand, shedding her own tears before the changed form of her son.
‘You didn’t have to force yourself to endure it all… you really did good, holding out to the end. But it’s alright now. You’ve got a lot of friends, and a lot of girlfriends… you’ve got to make them happy.’
He nodded in tears, and this time, his little brother bashfully scratched his head.
‘… I’ll do something about mom and pops. So bro, you have to do a proper job this time. Don’t cause too much trouble.’
Aleist’s voice wouldn’t come out for his odious brother. He nodded and wiped his tears. And finally…
‘I should’ve properly told you. I’m sorry. When you talked to me, I really was happy. I was always bad at talking with people, and it often turned awkward, but… thank you.’
As his family disappeared into the darkness, Aleist reached out his hand and was about to chase after. But he stopped. He held up his extended hand to wave them off with a smile.
(What am I doing, remembering my family at this point? Am I to show such a pitiful sight to my family and that girl who worried for me so? Keep it strong to the end, Aleist!)
Shouting at himself, Aleist tried to give them some peace of mind. Even if it was just a dream, perhaps it was precisely because it was a dream that he could muster his courage.
He cried as he made a smile, and he knew it was surely a strange face he made. But he wanted to act strong.
“I’m the one who should say sorry! I really am thankful… thank you for everything!!”
Even if it was a dream, Aleist was happy he could meet his family and that girl. He got the feeling he had found proof that he wasn’t alone in that world either.
When Aleist regained consciousness, he thought he had seen a good dream. But the voice and warmth he felt in the match definitely remained in his memory. He thought he had gone through quite a peculiar expression, but he remembered he had already gone through the impossible experience of reincarnation.
He suddenly realized he had grown quite accustomed to this world, and that was a laugh.
But from the infirmary bed he had been carried to, as per usual, he could see the Three Lords lay asleep on their beds. Rudel had the window bed, and to his side, Aleist, Luecke, then Eunius in that order.
Luecke had run out of mana maintaining the barrier during Rudel and Aleist’s battle. He lay with a considerably pained look on his face.
Everyone apart from Luecke was in bandages, the rhythm of sleepers’ breath filling the moonlit room.
“Ah, so it ended as usual… well, that’s not bad at all.”
Lying on his bed once more, Aleist closed his eyes and fell asleep once more. He didn’t yet know that some noisy days were to start tomorrow.